By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent, BEIRUT, May 4 (Reuters) – Hezbollah guerrillas, the bane of successive Israeli governments, have rearmed since last year’s war in Lebanon but have little interest in provoking a war, analysts say.

Israel has complained about Hezbollah’s resupply effort, but it too seems unlikely to plunge into any fresh conflict until it has digested the lessons of the previous one. Israel is also preoccupied with the political firestorm around Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, rebuked by an inquiry for his handling of the war. Lebanese security and political sources said Hezbollah had amply replenished its rocket arsenal and had received improved anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles from Iran via Syria since a United Nations-backed truce halted hostilities in August.

The Beirut government says it has no proof of arms transfers from Syria. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed the issue last month with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who opposes any move to put U.N. troops on the Syria-Lebanon border.
"What the group took six years to achieve (after Israeli troops left Lebanon in 2000), it has achieved in six months," one political source said of Hezbollah’s military buildup.

A security source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said Hezbollah was in better shape than before the war that erupted after it seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12. The Shi’ite guerrillas have had no visible presence in the border region since Lebanese troops and U.N. peacekeepers took over the area south of the Litani river. But Hezbollah can call up hundreds of villagers with military training if need be.


Hezbollah has also established a new defence line, with trenches, bunkers and rocket bases just north of the Litani and in the southern part of the Bekaa Valley to the east, the sources said.

They said the group has sent hundreds of fighters, both new recruits and veterans, for training in Iran — more than making up for its war casualties, including 270 or so dead.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has openly stated that military preparations are under way, couching them as precautions rather than as a prelude to attack.

This week he jubilantly noted the Israeli inquiry’s flaying of Olmert for his conduct of the war, in which Israel failed to destroy Hezbollah or stop it firing rockets across the border.

"Today the climate in the whole of the Zionist entity is that this war was a failure," Nasrallah said on Wednesday.

Many Israelis agree, with two thirds telling pollsters Olmert should resign. Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz argue that Israel made some gains in the war because U.N. peacekeepers had replaced Hezbollah fighters on the border.

A U.N. Security Council resolution in 2004 demanded the disarming of all militias in Lebanon. Hezbollah, the only faction to keep its weapons after the 1975-90 civil war, says it is an anti-Israel resistance movement, not a militia.


Analysts in Lebanon and Israel said Hezbollah was in no mood to go into battle again — unless any U.S. or Israeli assault on Iran’s nuclear installations set off a regional conflict.

"Hezbollah are thumping their chests now because they are trying to get some credit for the mess in Israel," said Timur Goksel, a former spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon.

He said their posture was not aggressive. "They get credit in the Arab world and their own community for challenging Israel in the public domain, but I don’t think they’ll go beyond that."

Hezbollah must consider its own people — Shi’ite civilians who took the brunt of Israeli bombing and now want to rebuild.

A political party as well as an armed group, Hezbollah has also been locked for months in a domestic stalemate that pits the Western-backed government against factions close to Syria.

"Hezbollah is not looking for a new war," retired Israeli intelligence analyst Matti Steinberg said. "It is aiming to reshape the character of the Lebanese state. It is not looking southward to the border, but inward to Beirut."

While Hezbollah devotes part of its energies to the Lebanese power struggle, its alliances with Iran and Syria link it to broader conflicts that could lead to a military flare-up.

"What troubles me is that perhaps the Americans will attack Iran," Aharon Zeevi-Farkah, a former chief of Israel’s military intelligence, told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot. "That would thrust us into a war and the home front is not ready."

Some Israeli analysts say another conflict is inevitable.

"Israel cannot live with a situation in which Hezbollah is regrouping and rearming," Efraim Halevy, former chief of the Mossad spy agency, told Reuters. "Hezbollah, for its part, is predicated on the idea of an ultimate confrontation." (Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki in Beirut and Dan Williams in Jerusalem)